A walkabout outside for those who can’t.

A study which was recently reported on the radio revealed that a significant proportion of people had no access at all, especially in cities, to green spaces. Paragraph 44 of LAUDATO SI’ declares that “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature”. It is widely known how important the outdoors is for both our mental wellbeing and our physical health, so although lockdown has been eased slightly, there are still those in isolation, who are shielded, or who are prevented from going outside by age, infirmity or other restrictions.

This invitation is for anyone who would like to join me in their imagination for a walk round the farm – not too far, and no rush.

From the back door I cross the yard and pass through a gap between the brick wall of the shippon and the stone wall of the barn. Three dogs race ahead and I walk along a tussocky grass track with the rams’ field sloping away down to my left, and with five long rows of newly ridged and furrowed potatoes (two earlies, three maincrop) to my right. At the edge of the track in the fenceline are trees marking pets’ graves.

Passing through a propped-open gate across the top of a fenced-off rhododendron wood, our hayfield rises gently to my right. It is one of our few dry fields. A scrubby steep patch to my left has oak trees planted by a guest twenty years ago, and a beautiful conifer with
upward pointing branches rescued as a living Christmas tree from a pot.

The next metal gate is at the head of a path descending steeply to a track beside the stream. As our route goes down, the rough pasture is a riot of spring colour and abundance. Although the primroses have nearly all finished, there are still violets in the shadier places. Buttercups have succeeded the bright yellow lesser celandine and dandelion heads are but a puff of gossamer. Bluebells abound everywhere, having spread up from the light woodland at the bottom onto the grass. By now the path has levelled out beside the stream, with the trees, mostly oak, beech, hazel and hawthorn above and to my right. It is a bright, dry, sunny afternoon, reasonably warm for May, with enough heat in the
sun to bring out the wonderful scent of the bluebells. Amongst the trees is a profusion of early purple orchids, still vibrant when the dappled light catches them. In this woodland the variety of birdsong is captivating – nature’s orchestra. My favourite is the song thrush in full voice every morning. How wonderful that God gave us our senses with which to enjoy his creation.

Now the springer spaniel is splashing about in a deep pool of the stream, but water flow is much reduced from its winter levels. We pass through a recently repaired gate and begin a slight rise. The collie has just joined us – he was away with Robin digging a trench to
repair a fractured land drain, and has caught us up.

Crossing a stile, we enter a fenced-off area where we planted beech, ash, alder and sweet chestnuts in the 80s. An understory of brambles is gradually being shaded out by the trees. A holly still has berries on it. A wooden bridge with broken planks takes us across a goyle created by water draining off the land. Eventually we arrive at a curved staircase of earthen steps which comes down and round to the stream again. In amongst the bluebells is a little patch of newly arrived ransomes. Once more the path rises steeply, crossing another wooden bridge spanning a gully, and then emerges from under the trees to a

warm sun-trap patch of grass where the bracken has started to unfurl its fronds. I search the grass for the mottled leaves of the spotted orchid, which I want to mark so that they are not damaged when we top the bracken.

Perhaps by now you are tired, so we rest a while on a log bench, absorbing the green-ness and enjoying the view. Then we turn right handed towards home, watching the junior Clumber spaniel taking a bath in a sheep drinker made from an old butler’s sink set to catch water from a land drain. She jumps up, her white coat half orange due to iron in the water.

Carrying on over the field there’s the peppery smell of sweet vernal grass and the delicate pink flowers of ladies’ smock. Trying not to notice that already the three types of thistles have started to appear, we pass another sheep drinker which the senior Clumber loves, though not for bathing as he isn’t a swimmer. On our right hand are two huge oak trees with low-hanging branches much appreciated by the sheep for shade, shelter and scratching posts. On the other side of the valley where the ewes with doubles are at keep, I hear 1608’s deep voice calling her mislaid lambs. Nearly home.

Thank you for your company. I hope you enjoyed our walk. Maybe you felt the presence of the spirit of St Francis with us?